Friday, January 06, 2006

Everybody Must Get Scones

(Illustration by Alex Fine)


SCORSESE, STARBUCKS AND DYLAN TOGETHER AT LAST!

There are two ways to sell out: sooner, and later. Back in '62 they sure as hell didn't sell double skinny caramel mochiatto decaf lattes with whipped cream on top at the Gaslight Cafe, the rough-hewn subterranean coffeehouse that served as Mecca for the Greenwich Village folk boom.
That little bit of cognitive dissonance will be airbrushed out of the minds of future generations starting next week, when Bob Dylan: Live at the Gaslight 1962 goes on sale exclusively-for 18 months anyway-at Starbucks.

I know, I know-Starbucks. Get over it. Think about it: A dearly departed Ray Charles sold 775,000 copies of Genius Loves Company at your friendly neighborhood Starbucks, and the one across the street from that and the one around the corner. And so on. All told, Starbucks accounted for a quarter of Genius Loves Company's worldwide sales.

Now consider this: There are 18 Starbucks in Philadelphia. How many Philadelphia record stores can you name? At this point, I'm required by law to point out that the times, they are, um, a-changin'.

If you can forget the crass commercialism of 21st-century hyper-capitalism for a moment-c'mon, this is America, you do it first thing every morning!-fork over your $13.95 to the nearest green-aproned barista, and you'll walk out of Starbucks with something far more long-lasting than a wicked-ass caffeine buzz.

Long available only in the shadowy redoubts of bootleggers, Live at the Gaslight 1962 is an extraordinary document of a time and a place, when a rumpled man alone with a guitar and a yellowing songbook of old, weird Americana could become a shining beacon of conscience.

In '62 Dylan wasn't that far removed from Robert Zimmerman, a chubby-cheeked Jewish kid from Minnesota who'd recently reinvented himself as a wizened bard of dust-bowl sadness, cowboy arcanum, humid Delta blues and sharecropper suffrage.

As Live at the Gaslight makes abundantly clear, he was utterly convincing in all those guises, wheezing righteously against the evil American gothic of the Jim Crow South, against the crushing poverty that drives a South Dakota dirt farmer to kill his family rather than hear them starve, against the war pigs wringing blood and profit out of atomic paranoia.

At the Gaslight he had them all eating out of his hand-the corduroy folkniks, the civil rights kids, the angel-headed hipsters and the stray tourist couple just off the bus from Sheboygan. In a few short years, wild-haired and wired, the ghost of electricty howling in the bones of his face, he'd turn his back on all of them at the Newport Folk Festival.

Why all this happened will, presumably, be explained with a Goodfellas-esque montage in Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home doc, airing Sept. 26 on PBS.

The accompanying two-disc soundtrack to No Direction Home (set for simultaneous release with Live at the Gaslight, but available in record stores) is another embarrassment of riches for armchair Dylanologists, as it spans his first recordings in 1959 through the punkish snarl of "Maggie's Farm" at Newport 1965, to the thunderously raw rock 'n' roll and resulting jeers of "Judas" at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1966.

All of which is a long way of saying to you, Mr. Starbucks Hatin' Man, that if you want to call Bob Dylan a sell-out, well, you're gonna have to stand in line.

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